4 gangster cars for the slaughter

Published on Monday, April 15, 2019.
Updated on Tuesday, December 17, 2019.
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The Ford Cortina Lotus: the Great Train Robbery

The London-Glasgow Royal Mail train robbery of 1963 left its mark on a whole generation while occupying the collective memory of those in the UK and Europe thanks to various cinematographic interpretations of the crime.  In France, Gérard Oury shot an adaptation of it, entitled ‘the Brain’, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Bourville headlining. On August 8, 1963, at 3:03 am, a gang of 16 gangsters led by Bruce Reynolds (among others, opinions differ on his role as the “brain”), seized a Royal Mail train leaving from Glasgow for London filled with £2.6 million in small denomination notes destined for destruction (equivalent to £53.5 million today, by comparison).

And why the Ford Cortina Lotus, you might ask?  Well at the time, it was a particularly desirable car, intended for homologation for the BTCC (1000 copies minimum) and fitted with the Ford, 1.6 litre, ‘Kent’ engine, with 106 hp, modified by Lotus for the Elan.  This version differed from its standard more peaceful sisters due to aluminium doors, Lotus modified transmission and suspensions, and the particularly recognisable (today iconic…) white and green paint and wide wheels and tires.

Bruce Reynolds, the presumed brain behind the caper, loved cars and had bought himself a Lotus Cortina shortly before the big heist thanks to the loot from various other petty thefts.  Registered BMK 723A, it was used for the stake out and planning before executing the robbery of the century (as it came to be known), leaving tire marks and patches (with specific treads, as eluded to above) near their hideout which would help to place the vehicle near to the scene of the crime according to the investigation by the police.  Reynolds managed to escape abroad, but was arrested in 1968 on his return to London.

Ironically, the West Sussex police would later equip themselves with the Lotus Cortina.

The BMK723A remained in the police impound until 1980 before being sold to a famous customer, Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus.  It would remain in the Lotus collection until the brand sold at auction a portion of its cars in 2000. Since then, it regularly appears in sales, the last of which in 2012 where it sold for approximately £100,000.

The Citroën 15-6 G: Pierrot le fou

In the period immediately follow WWII, France went through an unsettled time, as everyone was trying to survive as best they could (rationing lasted until 1949).  For Pierre Lautrel, violent mobster, former soldier from the stockades, affiliated with the French Gestapo, and sometimes resistance fighter (seeking to gain esteem…), there was only one course of action: resume his activities as a common thief.  With 6 accomplices, he created a band of criminals which became known as the ‘Gang des Tractions Avant’ or the ‘Front Wheel Drive Gang’.

The Citroën 15-6 G in the film « The Gang » by Jacques Deray.

The idea was not a new one: make sure that their ‘get away’ cars were faster, more power, had better handling and could simply out run anything that the law might put in pursuit.  For Pierre Lautrel, nickname ‘Pierrot le fou’, or ‘crazy Pierrot’, the obvious choice was the Citroën 15-6 with the inline 2,867 cc, 6 cylindre, with 77 horsepower. Fast for its time at a top speed of 135 km / h, it also gained from the benefit of blending in amongst the other Citroën 7, 11 and 15 on the road at the time.  It was the car of predilection for criminals, the Gestapo and the Resistance.

After a series of robberies started in February 1946, the Gang and Pierrot le fou (now “public enemy number 1”) found themselves besieged by the police on a farm near Champigny, in September of that year.  Lautrel escaped but accidentally shoots himself while climbing into his 15-6. He died just a few days later.

The BMW 528i: Jacques Mesrine

On May 14, 2007, a legend was shredded forever: in a junkyard in Athis-Mons, the BMW 528i E12, registered 83 CSG 75, was reduced to nothing more than a heap of metal after being sealed for 28 years following the death of Jacques Mesrine, the 2nd of November 1979.

A BMW 528i with the correct registration, in the 2008 film Mesrine, with Vincent Cassel in the title role.

In the 1970s, the man who called himself ‘The Great One’, and even ‘Robin Hood’ became ‘public enemy number 1’, after a series of robberies.  In 1979, he decided to buy a ‘bimmer’ and offered himself for a little more than 100,000 French francs at the time (euros 15,000 today) a demo model from the BMW dealership in Clichy, near Paris.

Equipped with a 2.8 litre inline 6 cylinder putting out 184 horsepower, manual transmission, air conditioning and Motorsport rims, the car became famous just two months after being registered.  As Mesrine pulled out of his hideout behind the wheel of his BMW, he fell into a police dragnet at the corner of Porte de Clignancourt and Boulevard Ney. Trying to escape, a pursuit ensued, 21 shots were fired at the car, which stopped definitively with just 7,747 km on the odometer.  Inside, Mesrine was fatally injured.

Since that time, BMW has often been considered a brand particularly popular with gangsters, especially since earlier in the decade, the Baader-Meinhof gang, terrorist faction, had raised havoc in Germany, and had been associated with driving a BMW 2002 (in addition to a Iso Rivolta IR 300…and a 911).

The Cadillac 341 V8 Town Sedan: Al Capone

Al Capone, nicknamed Scarface, was arguably one of the most famous gangsters of all time.  Was it because of the many films which were inspired by his history, his tracking and his arrest by Eliot Ness, or quite simply for his imposing limousine, the Cadillac Series 341 armoured Town Sedan?  It is hard to say.

The head of the crime syndicate in Chicago throughout the 1920s, then at its peak thanks to prohibition, he offered himself in 1928 a Cadillac 341A V8 Town Sedan, both for the car’s imposing presence and for another reason: the police also use the same model.  Painted in the same green and black colours as the Chicago Police Department’s cars, it also had the same siren, rotating beacon and radio receiver.

In addition, for better protection, the Cad ’Town Sedan’ was armoured, that increased its weight to over 3 tonnes, a weight that the 5.6-litre V8 with only 90 horsepower had a hard time moving.  One addition special option equipping the Cadillac, Capone had modified the rear window so that it would pivot: practical for aiming the barrel of has machine gun at pursuing law enforcement or hit men from rival gangs.  After Al Capone’s conviction in 1931, the Caddy was picked up by a somewhat crooked car dealer who sold it. It resurfaced in 2012 at an auction, hammered down at $ 341,000. Having never changed the registration, it was still registered in the name of Al Capone’s wife, Mae.

 

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